MADRID, Spain, Aug 30 – Zinedine Zidane has said he will breathe a sigh of relief when the transfer window closes but Barcelona might need every minute until midnight on Monday to get a deal for Neymar finally done.
“I can’t wait for September 2 so I don’t have to answer these questions anymore,” said Zidane last week.
“There’s still no agreement (with Paris Saint-Germain),” Barcelona director Jordi Bordas said on Tuesday. “We are negotiating and we are closer, but I can’t say more than that.”
At the start of the summer, it was Real Madrid rubbing their hands at the prospect of wholesale changes while Barca could justifiably believe the majority of their business was complete.
Frenkie de Jong arrived after his 75-million euro switch from Ajax was announced in January while Antoine Griezmann soon followed, with Atletico Madrid claiming that transfer had been agreed in March.
All that seemingly remained for Ernesto Valverde was some tinkering around the edges.
Madrid, though, were just getting started as 300 million euros spent appeared to pave the way for the sales of those Zidane wanted gone and perhaps more additions too.
Yet as the market enters its final straight, Madrid are the ones winding down while Barca turn their early jog into a sprint.
“Every time there is a transfer window, there is a lot of expectation and certain players like Neymar raise expectations too,” said Valverde last week.
Neither club appears to have benefitted from a haphazard couple of months, given both have dropped points in their opening two matches in La Liga.
Madrid started brightly against Celta Vigo before familiar scoring problems resurfaced at home to Real Valladolid.
“Zidane loses his immunity,” read the headline in Marca on Monday.
– Another political summer –
Barca lost to Athletic Bilbao on the season’s opening night, although bounced back by hammering Real Betis.
“After a defeat, there is always a big reaction,” said Griezmann, who scored twice at Camp Nou.
The success of their transfer dealings will be judged deeper into the campaign but already the sense is of Zidane and Valverde playing their own part in what has become another political summer.
Zidane wanted Paul Pogba in and Gareth Bale out but neither have materialised, perhaps as much due to the complexity of the deals as any failure from Madrid to commit to them.
But two consecutive starting line-ups without a single signing indicates Zidane is not impressed, a message made more resounding by Bale, and James Rodriguez, being ushered back in.
“The players I have are the ones that are here,” Zidane said.
Valverde has not so much looked to the past as the future, throwing Ansu Fati and Carles Perez onto the field against Betis, the former aged 16 and the second youngest player ever to play for Barcelona in La Liga.
Criticism of Valverde is never far away and one of the sticks most regularly used to beat him with has been a perceived hesitation to trust in youth.
His turning to the youngsters suggests he wanted to show both that he is ready and that they are too, perhaps before Barca agree to bring back Neymar for close to 200 million euros.
“The team played very well,” Valverde said. “We know with the players we have, and the quality they have, that we have a lot of options to win.”
Injuries have played a part. Eden Hazard would have made his debut by now were it not for a thigh strain picked up on the eve of the season while Perez and Fati enjoyed opportunities in the absence of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.
Yet both coaches have seemed keen to make a point, with results now likely to dictate whether friction becomes something more serious.
Messi, out with a calf problem, may not return until after the international break, with Barcelona travelling to newly-promoted Osasuna on Saturday. Real Madrid will hope for a morale-boosting win on Sunday at Villarreal.
Their slips have allowed Atletico Madrid and Sevilla to take an early advantage, each sitting first and second in the table with six points out of six.
Sevilla host Celta Vigo on Friday night before Atletico play at home to Eibar on Sunday.
Sevilla v Celta Vigo (2100), Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad (2300)
Osasuna v Barcelona (1800), Getafe v Alaves (1900), Levante v Valladolid (1900), Real Betis v Leganes (2200)
Valencia v Mallorca (1800), Atletico Madrid v Eibar (1900), Espanyol v Granada (1900), Villarreal v Real Madrid (2200)
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